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Weather Extremes China*
China gets a year of extreme weather
Published Aug 16, 2002 CHINA16
BEIJING -- The rains came to China this year as they do almost every summer, starting their destruction in the south and spreading northward as the season heated up. Lakes swelled. Deadly torrents were unleashed. Hundreds died.
But something different was happening: The places being flooded were part of China's arid belt - regions unaccustomed to dealing with so much water at once. Residents, many of them deeply poor, were blindsided.
``Physically, the people were not prepared - and definitely, psychologically, they were unprepared,'' said Richard Grove-Hills, head of the Beijing office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
In the most recent destruction, flooding and mudslides have killed 108 people in the past 10 days in the central province of Hunan, the official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday. Heavy rains that began Aug. 5 have wrecked railways and highways and caused $2.2 billion in damage in Hunan, a densely populated farming area, Xinhua said.
From a balmy winter - the second warmest in 50 years - to particularly severe and frequent spring dust storms to copious downpours in normally arid provinces, China has been battered by unusual weather in the past six months.
Summer monsoons dumped immense amounts of rain on provinces whose soil was unaccustomed to a deluge of moisture, unleashing deadly floods in areas far from the banks of the mighty Yangtze River, the usual site of overflow and destruction.
Government experts say the events are an unusually strong manifestation of a long-term problem - global warming.
``Global climate change ... has caused these extreme events,'' said Ding Yuhui, special adviser on climate change for the China Meteorological Administration. ``It has caused a lot of extreme conditions and amplified the anomalies.''
This year, nearly 900 people have died in nontraditional flood areas like the northwestern province of Shaanxi, the western desert regions of Gansu province and the tropical Guangxi region of the far south. The storms have battered agriculture, transportation, power grids and other infrastructure, causing about $3.6 billion in damage, according to state media.
The flooding occurred in two periods.
In April and May, the first rains hit Wuhan and Nanjing in the southeast, causing lakes along the Yangtze to rise to warning levels. Then in June, warm and moist air from India merged with cold air from Siberia to create a summer monsoon, which started its destructive path in the south and spread northward, bringing major prolonged rainfall, Ding said.
The unusual amounts of rain since May in nontraditional areas caused flash floods that have taken a tremendous toll, Grove-Hills said. Landslides triggered by water in areas where soil can't absorb moisture have also killed scores.
In some villages, Grove-Hills said, a lone building is left standing. Debris clogs roads. People suddenly have nothing.
``It's more like being in an earthquake zone than being in a flood zone,'' Grove-Hills said. ``You go to bed one night, the next morning everything is gone.''
Grove-Hills spearheaded relief efforts in the provinces of Jiangxi and Hunan in June, when flooding killed 471 people and caused $2.16 billion in economic losses, according to figures by the Civil Affairs Ministry published in state media.
Some 54 million people were affected and 6.42 million acres were damaged, the figures said.
In Shaanxi's Foping county, 151 people died in four days in June, officials said. On June 8 alone, the county recorded more than 19 inches of rainfall.
The National Office of Flood Relief and Drought Control and the Civil Affairs Ministry refused repeated requests for interviews.
Disaster officials say they have spent $12 billion on reinforcing dikes and other anti-flood preparations since 1998, when heavy rains along the Yangtze and in the northeast caused the worst floods in decades, killing 4,150 people. They have also stockpiled emergency supplies and set up round-the-clock communications networks.
This summer, China has allocated more than $2.4 million in cash and relief materials to flood-stricken areas across the country, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
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